Thursday, March 29, 2012

He Is Still Somebody!

A story described by: Ronda Grafford, a Mother from Murray, Kentucky

Written by: Alexis C. Custard

    For nine months an innocent child lives within their mother’s womb. The child eats, sleeps, grows and develops within the four walls of its mother; however, when they are born in the world and become mentally ill, they are not accepted on this Earth. But what if it were you? Morning, evening and night you hear voices in your head, you see prodigious figures of shadows and you’re not sure who or what they are. You become angry and want to kill yourself. Why, because you cannot escape the four walls from within-yourself.

    “At times I just want to crawl into a fetal position and give up on my lack of hope to help my own child” ... my name is Ronda Grafford, I live in Murray, Kentucky and I am the mother of a 31-year old son who lives with chronic paranoid schizophrenia. My son’s first psychotic break was in 2001 while away at school in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 21. During this time period, I was working a full time job, taking care of my elderly father and also my husband who had developed cancer.  By the end of 2008, my life became so dreadfully unbearable that I regretfully turned my son over to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services – State Guardianship.

    The state guardianship program moved my son 5 hours from his home into a personal care home. Due to the condition of my son's hygiene and apparent deterioration of his illness, I became concerned for his safety. I discovered he was being arrested on numerous occasions. I felt as if he was trapped in a place that no one understood his illness. As his symptoms worsen, I attempted to report my concerns but nothing changed. Finally, I requested for my son's guardianship to be returned to me. This was a lengthily and stressful process that took over a year.

    It costs around 700 dollars per day to place a patient in a State Mental Hospital. On the other hand, it only costs taxpayers around 52 dollars per day to house a mentally ill person in jail. This should not mean that it is humane to incarcerate people with a severe mental illness because of a cost savings to the state budget. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have waivers for housing and supported services, in the state of Kentucky. However, people with mental illness rarely have these types of supports. People with mental illness cannot help their state of mind, just as people with other types of disabilities.

    The Michelle P. Waiver supports people with intellectual disabilities to live independently in the community. It states that an individual must be diagnosed with a developmental disability before they turn 18 years old in order to qualify for supports. This excludes the majority of individuals with brain diseases such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar, ADHD, etc. People with severe mental illness lack many funding sources that would help them be independent. Are they not human? They should receive equal opportunity like everyone else. It’s no different than incarcerating a person with Alzheimer’s. Would you place your family member with Alzheimer’s in jail or prison?

    I would like for my son to have the right to live in his community. I would like for medications to be administered that will allow him to have the right to live a healthy life, free of hallucinations and delusions. I would like for Kentucky to amend mental health laws to allow assisted outpatient treatment, (AOT) for people who are gravely disabled and lack the insight to their condition. I am also asking for my son to live in a safe and supportive housing environment rather than the revolving doors of hospitals, crisis centers, and jails. In order for this to happen, effective case management using evidence-based mental health treatment and services must be made available.

    “It seems there is no place for my son in our society”. I am thankful for my family that has helped in many ways throughout my son’s journey. Some families turn their backs on people like me and my son. My son has lived in so many situations and they all fail due to his untreated mental illness, lack of supportive housing and case management. He has been hospitalized 17 times since 2000. Think of the money the state could save, if each person like my son received the support and treatment they needed within their community versus hospitals, jails or prisons.

    One in four adults—approximately 57.7 million Americans— experience a mental health disorder per year. It could be you, a family member, someone you know or a person you walk by on the street. Please help my son escape the womb of the world that he constantly lives in. 

   Who is my son? He is a grandson, a brother, a nephew, a friend; an American citizen-he is still somebody!

Published and produced by friends of ~ The Change Mental Health Laws in Kentucky Project, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!


  1. First, much appreciation to Ronda for her courage to share her heartbreak on this Blog. Also a special thanks to Alexis Custard for writing this story - giving it the intensity it deserved.

    I am aware of many stories similar to this family's painful journey. They are why I take the time to manage this Blog ... to give the most vulnerable a voice in Kentucky.

    As a KY mental health advocate and family member myself, I have learned that many of our state leaders who manage services and programs for people like Ronda's son - are totally naive of the discrimination and abuse their clients experience. If they could walk in our shoes for one day ... then and only then, they might be qualified to judge us.

    In Kentucky, the bottom line is funding. How are our state dollars being used for people like Ronda's son? Think about this man's story the next time you drive by a homeless man wandering the streets. As you drive by in your $50,000+ SUV, consider that his Mother was desperate to help her son take his needed medication, but she had no legal say so in his treatment plan. How does that differ from any other serious illness?

    Even if a family member obtains guardianship as Ronda did ... she had no legal rights to help her son receive his needed medical assistance. If this story educates just one legislator or state mental health professional of the need to amend Kentucky's mental health laws ... then it is worth my time.

    GG Burns, KY Mental Health Advocate for change.

    1. Thank you for sharing this story. And yes, persons with mental disorders deserve to be treated with dignity.

      From my experience, case management is completely missing for people with mental disorders who are over 18 and do not recognize their problem. A person who is not aware will not seek Assisted Outpatient Treatment. In fact, they will probably resist. What if experienced case workers knew how to provide assistance for the mentally disabled; knew how to help them choose treatment? What if case workers were able to assist them by providing balanced meals, exercise and other activities to aid in recovery and help them evaluate and achieve their goals? These case workers would save the state a lot of money and keep those with mental disorders out of jail.

    2. I agree Anonymous ... the 'what ifs' you suggest would be wonderful. Currently there isn't enough funds in KY to manage basic programs for people with SPMI, much less Mobile-Outpatient-Teams ... which would help people find the path to recovery. KY needs step-down programs since many who are hospitalized 'involuntary' are released within days or hours, never receiving the wrap around care/services needed to stabilized. At least one balance meal a day and a safe, clean place to 'call home' would also cut down on crimes, abuse and recidivism to ERs or jail.

      One point you make is important ... if a person lacks insight or doesn't recognize their problem ... of course they will not accept AOT. As the famous book by Xavier Amador explains ... "I am not sick I don't need help"
      This is why AOT needs to be part of their court-ordered treatment plan! However, even then ... this is NOT forced medication, so there will still be some who will refuse medical assistance, housing or other resources.

      Research states:

      • 2 million mentally ill go untreated in the US each year
      • One-third of mentally ill go homeless (200,000)
      • 16% of incarcerated (300,000) have mental illness
      • 1,000 homicides a year are committed by mentally ill
      • 10-17% of seriously mentally ill kill themselves
      • $15 billion is spent incarcerating mentally ill in the US

      Incarceration rates are reduced 87%
      Arrest rates are reduced 83%
      Homelessness rates are reduced 74%
      Danger to self/suicidal rates are reduced 55%

      If KY had AOT .. the funding is already there. It is being used in the CJS ... millions are wasted in corrections, courts and law enforcement each day.

      Additionally, people like this man deserve help:

  2. It is hard not to turn against society when it rejects and abuses our children. Thank you for sharing your story. You are not alone (I know that is little comfort!)but know that those of us who share your struggle wish the very best for you and your son.

  3. My daughter is 47 yrs old, still beautiful - but totally paronoid and bi-polar. She forced her husband to divorce her. During divorce, the judge basically told her if she would take her medicine, she would get house and children. She still would not take her medicine. Husband was not in fault, her illness caused the divorce. She would not take medicine to save marriage or to keep her children that she loves sooooo dearly. Now she cries. I'm at my wit's end trying to figure out even a place to begin to try to get her help. She will not accept help because that's part of her illness - she does not have the ability to trust anyone or anything. Presently shes afraid to leave the house and she is getting worse. She bilieves people are spying on her throught the TV, radio, and even the phone - so all of them stay turned off. She has always been such a sweet turned person and I can't imagine that she would ever hurt others, but she has threatened to hurt herself on occassion. When she made those threats, I called police and they took her in for treatment. Once they even kept her for 2 weeks before letting her go and she was no better than before - the other time they didn't even keep her. I don't know what to do - can someone help?

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